Harden gets warm welcome from OKC fans
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY – Even without James Harden, life has gone on for the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans.
But on the night Harden made his first return trip to the place he helped build a budding NBA dynasty, it came with a sobering backdrop that tempered the hype of this compelling reunion. After the 23-year-old daughter of Houston Rockets coach and Boston Celtics legend, Kevin McHale, lost her battle with Lupus on Saturday, approximately 40 Rockets coaches, players and team officials went the extra 1,500-plus miles to attend the Minneapolis, Minn. funeral on Wednesday morning.
Rather than flying straight from Houston to Oklahoma City the night before the game like NBA rules typically require (they made an exception in this extreme and tragic case), the Rockets left Houston and arrived in Minneapolis at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, squeezed in a team meeting at 9 a.m., then went to offer McHale and his wife, Lynn, their support before arriving in Oklahoma City in the afternoon. All the emotion that would have otherwise been invested in a basketball grudge match of sorts was instead put in its proper place.
“Just (for McHale) to see our faces, I think, kind of gave him some kind of joy,” Harden said before the game. “Just to show him that we were there. Basically our entire organization went there just to support him, (and) no matter if it was for five minutes or 30 minutes, he just wanted to see our faces. I’m glad we got that opportunity.”
Harden was traded from the Thunder to the Rockets on Oct. 28. He had made a mark in just two seasons with the Thunder, became basketball brothers with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as they evolved from cellar-dwellers to NBA Finals participants last June.
There were pregame cheers and no boos from a sellout crowd during introductions at Chesapeake Energy Arena, from this fanbase that always loved him and his infamous beard.
Before the game, however, Harden was pressed by local reporters as to why he didn’t agree to an extension sooner rather than run the risk of being … [For more on James Harden gets a warm welcome from Oklahoma City fans, click here.]